Back To Square One – Part 2

logo 2015 250x325Marco Rubio has inadvertently said something important. (Pause for this to sink in and the mandatory face-palm.)

Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate with a negative net worth, was baptized a Mormon and is now a Catholic. He is the son of Cuban immigrants who has sworn to undo the present administration’s actions to normalize relations with Cuba. He did significant work on an immigration bill which he now would like to forget. He believes life begins at conception, favors ultrasounds before abortions, voted against stem cell research, and wants to give legal rights to unborn children.

And in an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network he recently made a statement which speaks volumes about the place of religion in our society.

“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he explained, “because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater. So what’s the next step after that, after they’re done going after individuals? The next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.”

In other words, be afraid. Be very afraid. Not only are they are coming to get your guns, they’re coming for your church! As religion demands to insert itself more and more into the traditionally secular areas of government and politics it is important to understand why. Is it that it is no longer sufficient to preach from the pulpit, they must also canonize their beliefs in law? Or is that they need secular sanction for their ideas in order to survive attacks on their beliefs?

For years we’ve heard the Christian right talk about the war on religion and the war on Christmas and the loss of religious freedom and the ban on prayer in schools in this country, and many of us would just shake our heads and mutter, “idiots!” But they aren’t idiots. In some ways they are savants. They have seen the writing on the wall, and it doesn’t look good from the pew or the pulpit. Every time there’s a reaction to another bakery refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding, the more afraid they get.

The rapid change in the way the country views same sex marriage is a major threat not just to individuals within the fundamental religious faiths who are so vocal about their opposition to such things, but to the very existence of those faiths. Dismissing someone as an idiot is one thing. Defining that person as a bigot and a hater is quite another. And if you have a man (or woman) who claims that the reason he believes as he does, the reason he is a bigot and a hater (in your view), is because that is what his church teaches, how can you not look at that church as a source of bigotry and hatred. So, the more people come to see the opposition to things like same-sex marriage as bigotry, the closer we come to turning on the institutions that we see as promoting hatred and divisiveness.

And that’s unfortunate, because, in reality, the teachings of Christ are the antithesis of bigotry and hatred.   The teachings of many fundamentalist religious groups, on the other hand, bear little resemblance to what Christ taught.

If a member of the Catholic Church, which is hardly a bastion of far right religious belief these days when there are sects that make the Baptists look tame, defines the situation as dangerous, can you imagine how threatened the true religious extremists must feel?

Talking about religion is like playing hopscotch in a mine field. Most people just keep quiet and go around. And that’s because people feel very deeply about their religion in many cases and are quick to take offense if you say the “wrong” thing. More people have been killed in this world over differences in religious views than anything else.

You cannot easily have a rational conversation about religion.   Religion isn’t about reason. Religion is about faith.

Faith doesn’t need reason. Faith does not need proof. Religious faith is not about this world, it’s about getting to the next. Faith is an unquestioning belief that my god is better than your god and that my path to the afterlife is better than your path to the afterlife. Think about it. If there was any question, any question at all, that your path was better than mine or your afterlife was better than mine or that your god was more powerful or more loving or more accessible than mine, my whole world view, maybe my whole sense of self begins to crumble. You have to be wrong. I cannot even listen to such blasphemy.

Sound familiar?

I’ve talked about this before. People need consistency, consonance. When someone is confronted by new information or views that conflict with existing beliefs, ideas, or values and simply cannot deal with the dissonance, they actively avoid situations where that dissonance is likely to increase. And they work to create an environment that is as consistent with their beliefs as possible because the dissonance is painful.  Evangelical religious thinking is deeply rooted in the concept of cognitive dissonance.

At one time in this country, religion was a relatively personal thing. Churches and their parishioners did good works, helped the poor, and fed the homeless. They generally saw corporate America as servants of mammon and corporate America saw them as a socialist influence. After the Great Depression all that began to change. The New Deal threatened business through regulations passed to get the country on its feet again and keep it there. In his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Kevin Kruse describes how industrialists and business lobbies literally paid the conservative clergy of the day to preach the gospel of free enterprise.

These pastors made the case to their flock that the New Deal violated the natural order, that it made a false idol of the federal government and encouraged people to covet what the wealthy have and steal from them in the form of taxes. Capitalism was just like Christianity because in both systems if you did good, you were rewarded and if you didn’t, you went to hell (or failed) and that was God’s plan. You should no more be punished for doing well in business (read be regulated or pay taxes) than you should be sent to hell after living a good life.

Sound familiar?

Apparently, a Los Angeles pastor named James Fifield, whose congregation read like a who’s who of rich corporate leaders, set out to recruit other clergymen to the corporate cause. Soon more than 17,000 “minister representatives” belonged to his organization, Spiritual Mobilization, and were preaching against the New Deal, calling it creeping socialism, and defending the “American way of life.”

Fifield also compared bible reading to eating fish: you had to “take out the bones to enjoy the meat.” Not all parts of the bible were of equal importance and you had to pick and choose. Fifield and his army of corporate religious crusaders chose to pick those parts which supported the idea that worldly success was a sign of God’s blessing (and by extension those who did not fare so well in worldly pursuits were not among God’s chosen).

Sound familiar?

Religion had entered politics in a huge way, paid for by the corporate heads of General Motors, the National Association of Manufacturers, Sun Oil, and the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Evangelical religious thinking since the 1930s is deeply rooted in corporate philosophy.

By the fifties when the communist threat of that great atheist abomination, the Soviet Union loomed, Spiritual Mobilization was there touting the “libertarian-Christian gospel” of “Freedom under God.” The McCarthy era combined Christian rhetoric with tirades against communism all meant to “keep America safe,” (reads “keep capitalist interests safe” and those were by that time inextricably bound to the religious right).

(Reference links below.)

People come to their religious faith from many paths. Many are simply born into it. Others come to it through some sort of crises or epiphany. Some feel very strongly about it and others not so much. But at some point most find themselves in contact, in one way or another, with “the church.” And “the church” has seen manipulation by outside interests throughout recent history.

Every citizen in this country has the right to believe as he or she sees fit and to worship however that person wishes. Our country was designed to keep government from meddling in our citizens’ right to believe and worship as they see fit. The reverse has no such protections. There are no restraints that keep religious institutions from meddling in politics and government.

The corporate plutocracy has been exploiting that fact for over eighty years. The whole notion of “one nation, under God,” can be traced directly back to Spiritual Mobilization, INC, which owes its existence to corporate money, but people chant it in the streets today as if it came from the lips of Jesus himself.

There is nothing wrong with religious belief, and everyone should exercise their own, but when those beliefs are shaped, at least in part, by corporate interests that are secular and political, it calls into question the very foundation of those beliefs in the same way that any belief system which is responsible for creating bigots and hatred must be called into question. And it certainly calls into question those politicians who seek to use religious belief as an excuse for pursuing political ends which benefit corporate interests.

Time after time we are seeing the national conversation turned from issues crucial to this country’s future in order to address concerns that come from supposedly deeply felt religious beliefs. And while no one will change any minds through reason where issues of faith are concerned, we need to examine very carefully just what part of the fish is being thrown away and what part is being considered the meat.

Your Humble Servant,

The Willowbrook Curmudgeon


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